American Council on Exercise by American Council on Exercise

Desk PainMom may not have always been right, but she had one thing down. Keeping your head up and your back straight is sound advice for you and your clients.

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as it sounds, especially when most of your clients spend 8 hours a day at a desk staring at a computer.

“Many people have desk set ups that aren’t conducive to good posture,” said ACE Director of Credentialing Todd Galati. “Because of that, a few things start to happen when they get tired. Their head drops forward as they stare at the screen, the upper part of their back hunches over and their shoulders move forward because they’re continually reaching their arms up and out.”

Prevent Long-Term Damage

Poor posture at work can lead to exaggerated lordosis (curvature of the lower back) or kyphosis (also known as “hunchback”).

“Eventually our bodies become accustomed to those deficiencies, and we’ll adopt that incorrect posture even after we leave our desk,” Galati said. “With exaggerated kyphosis (curvature in our upper spine) our muscles between our shoulder blades will become longer and weaker to their counterparts, the chest muscles. This causes an imbalance causing the scapulae to be pulled forward (protracted), adding to the “hunchback” posture and issues that go with it.”

If you don’t complete those deficiencies in your clients at the onset of training, it will most likely get worse or increase their chance of injury.

“When your clients aren’t moving efficiently, it makes their activities of daily living more difficult and inhibits movement when they’re working out,” Galati said. “If their weight is distributed evenly and their spine is neutral, they’ll feel more in control of their bodies and be able to move more freely.”

Solve It with Movement

Correcting postural deviations in your desk-bound clients should be the first obstacle you tackle in a training regimen. Get started with these 4 movements:

  1. Prisoner RotationsStart in a kneeling position and interlock hands behind the head without pulling head forward. Engage core muscles to stabilize lumbar spine. Exhale and rotate arms to the right until a point of resistance is reached (no bouncing or rotating the hips). Hold for 15 seconds and then laterally flex the trunk, pointing the right elbow toward the floor. Hold for 5 seconds, and then return to upright position. Laterally flex in the opposite direction before returning to upright position and allowing the trunk to rotate further into the movement. Perform 2-4 repetitions on each side to promote thoracic spine mobility in the transverse plane.
  2. Bird DogStart in a hands and knees position on a mat, with knees underneath hips and the crease of wrists underneath shoulders, fingers pointing forward. Engage core, keep spine in a neutral position and avoid sagging hips. Lengthen left leg, engage quadricep, and lift your left leg off the floor until parallel with the mat. Do not lift above hip height. Slowly raise and straighten right arm so that it’s parallel with the floor and head is aligned with spine. Do not allow shoulders to tilt upward. Shoulders and hips should stay square or parallel to the mat throughout exercise. Hold for no more than 7 seconds, then slowly lower back to starting position.
  3. Table-Top Kneeling Lat StretchKneel facing a low table, couch or chair, bending forward to place both extended arms on the object (rest forearms). Engage core to stabilize spine and prevent lordosis. Start with arms internally rotated, thumbs pointing inward. Exhale and gently collapse trunk and head toward the floor, maintaining a neutral spine while externally rotating the arms. Hold for 15 seconds, and then perform a series of slow anterior and posterior pelvic tilts. Relax and repeat 2-4 times.
  4. Shoulder Packing – Start lying on the back with knees bent 90 degrees and feet flat on floor, aligning the anterior superior iliac spine with knee and second toe. Position arms at sides of trunk with palms facing upward. Engage core to stabilize lumbar spine. Exhale and perform 2-4 repetitions of scapular depression and scapular retraction, holding each for 5-10 seconds. Using passive assistance from the opposite arm, gently push down on the shoulder without losing lumbar stability. Hold for 15-60 seconds. Relax and repeat 2-4 times on each shoulder.


Check out our related ACE courses on posture including Conducting Postural Assessments (0.2 CECs) and Your Clients’ Framework (0.7 CECs).

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